In an opinion issued Thursday, the Supreme Court declared that the federal government cannot require organizations that receive federal funds for overseas HIV/AIDS programs to explicitly oppose prostitution and sex trafficking.
In a 6-2 vote, the justices ruled that the federal law that required organizations to adopt the government's views on those issues violates the organization's free-speech rights.
"The Policy Requirement compels as a condition of federal funding the affirmation of a belief that by its nature cannot be confined within the scope of the Government program," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the opinion. "In doing so, it violates the First Amendment and cannot be sustained."
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito joined Roberts in the majority opinion, while Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"The First Amendment does not mandate a viewpoint-neutral government," Scalia wrote. "Government must choose between rival ideas and adopt some as its own."
The requirement is part of a 2003 law under which the United States is spending $60 billion to fight infectious diseases worldwide, according to The Washington Post.
The law prohibits any of the money to promote the "legalization or practice" of prostitution or sex trafficking, and required the groups funded by the law to have an explicit policy against prostitution, according to The Washington Post.
Two organizations that receive funding under the law – the Alliance for Open Society International and Pathfinder International – sued in 2005. They argued that such a requirement would compromise their effectiveness because they frequently work with those involved in prostitution.
The Obama administration supported the law, arguing that other rules officials instituted in 2010 addressed any First Amendment problems, according to Politico. The administration issued rules that allowed aid recipients to work with affiliates that disagreed with the government policy.
Also on Thursday, the court ruled against a group of merchants that object to having to accept American Express debit and credit cards along with the company's charge card.
In a 5-3 decision, the justices declared that in order to resolve claims with financial services corporation, retailers will need to work through arbitration, rather than a class-action lawsuit. Sotomayor recused herself from the decision.
The merchant group sued American Express in 2003, alleging that the company violated antitrust law by forcing them to accept its credit cards as a condition of accepting its charge cards, according to Reuters.
The merchants argued that the arbitration clause prevented them from seeking redress due to the high costs of pursuing individual claims.
In the majority opinion, Scalia wrote that "the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim."